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The Technological Future of the Legal World

In 2013, Legal expert and author Richard Susskind’s ground-breaking book ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future’ predicted that a digital shift is occurring, that will radically change how legal professionals’ work, redefining the legal marketplace.

The book outlines that we are living in an era of unprecedented technological change and that legal professionals should be open-minded to this. He encourages that the use of technology should be to innovate, not just automate, working processes. 

Almost a decade later, it is interesting to see how his predictions became reality.

As reported by The Sunday Times: Every law firm, no matter what size, now perceives that competitive threat will come from organisations that are better at leveraging technology. The increasing realisation amongst legal professionals, is not about the IT department adopting the latest technologies, but how a business implements these advancements to help innovate their firm.

Covid-19: Catalyst of Legal Tech

Susskind refers to the use of ‘relentless connectivity’, that using technologies such as video conferencing and instant messaging will help to assist colleagues, lawyers, and clients alike.

As we are now aware, this relentless connectivity has proved useful during the last two years, with the pandemic flipping the traditional ways of working on its head. Orders to work from home across the globe forced firms to shift gears on their push to expand legal tech. Millions have had to adapt and change means of connecting with one another when it can no longer be done in person – with the help of technology, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, ensuring a smooth continuation of connectivity throughout this difficult time.

Although Susskind did not predict the pandemic, he did point out that these systems will grow in popularity for legal service workers. Clients and solicitors are now able to E-sign documents with ease and use collaborative technologies to support workflow, task allocation and management. 

Further discussed in the 2022 Aderant Business of Law and Technology Survey; Covid has forced firms to change their business priorities. Firm have had no choice but to embrace technological ways of working and opinions on processes have changed. As the survey reported, the main areas for increasing investment are now focused on software, hardware, and process developments. 

A Look to the Future

In the years to come, automation technology will be commonplace, helping to draft, scan and process. The online delivery of advice and documents will become firmly embedded providing greater flexibility and quicker access. For example, if a firm can send a document electronically to the client, that they can also view, sign, and send it back within a matter of hours. This can improve efficiency of moving a process along by not having to wait for documents to be signed, scanned, and sent by hand. Information is now accessible within seconds in a structured format that cuts-down on a large percentage of the work needed. 

By 2025, legal departments will increase their spending on legal technology threefold, replacing 20% of generalist lawyers with nonlawyer staff and have automated 50% of legal work. Although these figures may scare some – the worry that technology could replace hardworking individuals – it is vital to remember that these individuals are still needed within the workplace, to oversee and assist such technologies. Just as Susskind encourages, individuals will be needed to implement and oversee these processes.

The Lawyer of Tomorrow

A key question firms will be tasked to solve; is how do you make digital DNA flow through the entirety of an organisation? The future of the firm is likely to be driven by a younger generation of lawyers coming through who are enthused by technology. Combining the power of human expertise, data insights and digitalisation.

It is Susskind’s belief that prospective lawyers and legal service workers need to take an open-minded approach when considering their legal futures. As roles in legal services will increasingly draw upon other fields promising legal professionals must develop alongside this change to help firms evolve. Examples include legal knowledge engineers and legal technologists, helping to bridge the gap between law and tech to improve and innovate processes. 

Educational institutions are already in agreeance with this development of future legal candidates. In Northern Ireland, Ulster University has created a course to help provide future lawyers with the tools needed for success within the changing legal landscape.

The LLM/Msc Corporate Law, Computing and Innovation course provides students with a 50% corporate, finance and tech law and 50% computer science degree. This unique, multidisciplinary degree helps to nurture a generation of future lawyers who will be one step ahead of the legal curve before they land a post-graduate role.

The technological evolution of the legal field is playing out just as Susskind predicted, with an unprecedented push from Covid-19, firms and legal professionals have all been forced to enhance their working methods with a digital upgrade. As technological advancements threaten the processes of traditional legal firms it is interesting to consider just how much of an impact this will have on the legal profession, and the expanding opportunities it can provide for the lawyers of tomorrow.

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